Behind The Boards

The Mansions of Bellevue Avenue: America Reimagines Dining, Drinking and Dancing

The Mansions of Bellevue Avenue: America Reimagines Dining, Drinking and Dancing

You were lucky to be invited. Now that you’re here, you can hardly believe the extravagance.

The floors, walls and staircase are all made of marble. Flemish tapestries and the finest European art hang from the walls as a pair of white swans relaxes in an indoor fountain.

The earliest known Tiffany glass installation? It’s right there in the dining room.

The year is 1885 and one of America’s wealthiest families is hosting more than 400 guests. The Vanderbilts are here. So are the Astors, the Fricks, and members of the Rockefeller and Carnegie families. 

It’s just another night on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island during America’s Gilded Age. Nouveau riche barons of the industrial revolution resided on Fifth Avenue in New York City, but enjoyed weekends and summers on this two-and-a-half-mile stretch of land overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Soon, you’re led to a two-story-tall ballroom at the center of the mansion, where guests are reimagining how America socializes. Electric lights, still only available to the lucky few, and the newly invented phonograph make it possible to dine, drink and dance all through the night. 

Nothing will ever be the same. 

The Gilded Age even signals the birth of modern fashion. Wealthy Americans revel in haute couture and its custom-fitted clothing derived from expensive silk and wool. On the day in question, the women of Bellevue Avenue have already changed dresses five times.

An eight-course meal of gourmet French cuisine, served at 2 a.m., marks the sixth.

Fried oysters, chicken croquettes, terrapin, and cold salmon a la Rothschild are all on the dinner menu along with another hot new trend: champagne. Elites, emulating the French, adopted it for regular consumption and started a tradition that continues to this day—bubbly on New Year’s Eve.

All told, the affair costs upwards of $250,000 (an inflation-adjusted $6 million), and that’s just for the men and women at the mansion that night. In a separate room, guests’ dogs enjoy a three-course meal of stewed liver and rice, biscuits and bones. The price tag? $1.5 million by today’s standards.

Yup, it’s just another night on Bellevue Avenue. 

Back here in the 21st century, we may not be able to witness the Gilded Age for ourselves, but we can be inspired by their commitment to a cause – great parties!

Talk to Bellevue Boards about customized charcuterie boards for your special occasion, with a curated selection of artisanal cheeses, cured meats, fresh and dried fruits, and sweets.

It’s your ticket to Gilded Age revelry without the hefty price tag.